My first recipe and post on the Spice Islands Flavor Explorer blog features their pure vanilla extract in a plain and simple favorite – vanilla pudding.

As long as I can remember, I have loved vanilla puddings, custards and creams whether oozing out of doughnuts, inside crepes or layered between cake. As a child, we often ate packaged pudding for dessert, which I slurped off the spoon slowly, savoring every bite.

In the past years, I have learned that homemade, old-fashioned pudding does not take that much more time and when using high quality ingredients, you will notice a major difference in the outcome. Once you leave the box, you’ll never go back. This recipe uses whole milk, a few egg yolks and a touch of butter for extra richness, and fragrant Spice Islands vanilla extract.

Spice Islands makes its vanilla extract exclusively with beans from Madagascar. In case you didn’t know, that is a small island off the southeastern coast of Africa. I first learned about Madagascar during a primatology course in college because it is the only place on earth where a host of bouncing, cartoon-like lemurs exist. As my cooking and baking skills advanced, I came to appreciate the unique locale for producing the most plump, flavorful vanilla beans in the world.

As if traveling to a far-off, primate-laden island isn’t enough of a chore, vanilla beans are not easy to grow. The beans are actually a fruit and grow out of an orchid flower. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the day that it blooms. Because the plants can bloom at slightly different times, the growers must carefully look for open flowers numerous times a day, taking advantage of the short window of opportunity. After nearly ten months of waiting, the vanilla pods are ready to be plucked by hand and made into vanilla extract.

Sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? You can see why it is so common for many to take a short cut and use artificial vanilla flavor. Perhaps you are asking yourself, does the quality of the small amount of vanilla extract used in most recipes REALLY make a difference? Well, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

Find my recipe for Old Fashioned Vanilla Pudding HERE at the Spice Islands Flavor Explorer Blog.